手・て/’te’ means hand, 拭う・ぬぐう/ nuguu is the verb to wipe, 拭い・ぬぐい/ nugui is the noun – a wipe, hence 手拭い・てぬぐい・tenugui is a hand wipe or towel. I first saw them when I was very young, growing up Kagoshima. I probably saw them daily on people who worked hard outdoors, in shops, or out in the inaka working the rice fields or picking tea (in the appropriate season). Today, it seems their uses and popularity have increased. While they are still used practically as towels, “headbands” or bonnets, they are also used to embellish the home as wall or window hangings, tablerunners or other decorative items. The imagery on them has changed from traditional to a wide range of playful, contemporary patterns and color.
Recently, I viewed an episode on NHK’s Furusato where the host and hostess took viewers to a small tenugui industry. I was able to see how these cotton pieces were stenciled with traditional imagery, then, hung to dry outdoors.
I’m also taken with these little towels, since they are exactly what I reference in making hachimaki. My students print a variety of fish all over them and sometimes add other elements (when time allows) with fabric markers. In the future I’m imagining other elements: other kinds of stamps and stencils. As I research, I’m seeing that there are a lot of possibilities. In fact, I’m just getting started.